WNW MEMBERS FILM NEW GAP ADS IN THE LA RIVER CULVERT
We like to see the different ways in which creative individuals partner up to create exciting work. Sometimes it materializes with new collaborators building chemistry on the go. In other cases, it's a familiar group who all have a shared history, and are excited to reignite the creative sparks. Below we have a roundtable interview with WNW Members Piper Hickman, Kevin Li, and Joyce Lee, who were already well aware what each could bring to the table when they started on the new GAP Cozy ads.
The group offers a lot of insight into the driving themes behind these new ads, which were filmed in the storied LA River Culvert. and how everything ultimately came together but almost didn't. Piper, Kevin, and Joyce all give credit to WNW Member Cheri Anderson, the Head of Production at Untitled Worldwide, and Matt Baron from Alldayeveryday for making it happen. Ultimately, the ads offer a calming antidote to the newest hyperactive trends. As Piper puts it, "In this landscape of more/faster/shorter content, [we thought] that it would be cool to create work that breathes—that just lets a moment be a little more than a moment, both visually and musically."
Tell us a little bit about your creative backgrounds. Who are Piper, Kevin, and Joyce, and how did they get here?
PIPER: I’m a Creative Director / Writer who’s been working in New York almost nineteen years. My college degree and first job were in journalism, TV news actually. I credit the immediate daily deadlines of just a couple hours back then to my ability to work fast and not sweat writer’s block today. But I quickly grew bored of journalism and turned to advertising—I graduated from Miami Ad School and immediately came to NYC and hit the ground running. I’ve always loved writing of any sort, from telling stories to a good turn of phrase. I never thought I’d live here this long, but the city and the industry have been good to me. Just when I think I’ve done it all, a new creative challenge comes around the corner and I grab it.
KEVIN: I’m an Art Director / Creative Director. I’m also a wannabe chef. Canadian by birth, New Yorker for 15 years. I’ve never been shy to expose myself to different creative challenges. I’ve worn many different hats—when I was 19, my first job in Canada was designing faux swimming pool tile patterns for a vinyl manufacturing company. And now I make commercials about people floating on beds in the LA river. I’d say I got here by saying ‘yes’ more than I say ‘no.’
JOYCE: I’m a Producer with a Jack-of-all-Trades background. I started at reception and moved around filling holes at my first agency while learning about the industry - I was an executive assistant, business affairs, award show manager, creative manager. At a certain point my very understanding bosses gave me a chance to choose my own career path and I decided on production.
How would you describe your creative style?
PIPER: Irreverent, surprising, observant.
KEVIN: Experimental and fun.
JOYCE: Oh boy, there is a reason I am NOT a creative, but I am certainly a creative problem solver on the emotional level. Zero sum game? Can that be a style? Ha.
Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
PIPER: Every project is different and I tend to adjust my approach depending what the assignment calls for most. Freelancing almost demands this of you.
KEVIN: I like to approach each project separately as its own entity. It keeps things interesting and fresh that way. When you work with different teams the outcome can vary. That’s the fun of being creative, in my opinion.
Can you share a little insight into creating the concept for the Gap Cozy Ads?
KEVIN: The client wanted to showcase the Cozy Lounge Collection, really honing in on how comfortable the clothes are, yet how stylish, too. So the strategy team and Untitled nailed an angle for us: The easiest thing to wear from home to street. Then we brought the idea to life.
PIPER: Gap has such great equity in creating ads that make for great eye candy, so we really wanted to create something people would (hopefully) want to watch more than once, something they could see themselves relating to, or wanting to do themselves. And we also thought, in this landscape of more/faster/shorter content, that it would be cool to create work that breathes—that just lets a moment be a little more than a moment, both visually and musically.
How did the team come together?
PIPER: I was already working at Untitled doing some writing solo, and when some Gap work came my way I knew Kevin would be an awesome partner. He has a designer background, and that’s my favorite type of AD to work with—it’s almost like he has superpowers. Then Untitled’s Head of Integrated Production, Cheri Anderson, brought in Joyce, who I knew from my very first freelance gig, and my head exploded with excitement because she’s so f’ing great.
KEVIN: I knew Piper from Saatchi & Saatchi when we all used to work under Tony Granger. I was a designer back in those days and Piper was a copywriter. We worked together on a Crest project. I met Joyce at Untitled. Funny enough, she and I have very similar tastes in many things like restaurants and food. It’s like we’re related in a weird way. She’s even married to a Canadian. We couldn’t have pulled this off without her. Given the challenges, she went over and beyond to deliver for the team.
JOYCE: Cheri Anderson, the HoP at Untitled Worldwide, is one of my first producer mentors. She was freelancing at my first job and I asked to follow her around on set. Throughout the years I’ve reached out to her for advice or vendor ideas. Luckily she remembered me when it came time to call freelancers! =) Piper & Kevin were already at Untitled when I started. And it is true I did bring in Piper to her first freelance gig.
What was it like filming in the LA River Culvert?
KEVIN: It was a great experience. Our director, Matt Baron of Alldayeveryday brought up the idea to shoot in the river. He wanted a space that was ambiguous as a backdrop, and vast to give our talent enough runway to perform their tricks. We also wanted a location that could give us maximum light throughout the day. It’s tricky trying to check all those boxes. Also, aside from the cool fact of Grease, Terminator 2 and Dark Knight being filmed there, there’s something very beautiful, synthetic and utopian about the river. Did you know there is a group of people who live down there? They fish, eat and have camps. A whole community. Someone should make a movie about them.
JOYCE: Amazing from a film history perspective and also very efficient as there are no real distractions - we were able to shoot 3x spots in one day.
What were some of the challenges of making these ads come together in the way they did?
KEVIN: Our shoot almost didn't happen. The day before, we found out that Marvel's Agents of Shield was shooting in the exact location. The city of LA apparently made a mistake and double permitted the location. We scrambled to find an alt location, but we had our heart set on the culvert. Fortunately, the client was willing to wait two days and everything worked out.
PIPER: Finding the right talent for this was super important to us. We wanted legit skaters, bikers, athletes, etc. So casting took some time. Our final cast includes a professional surfer, a professional fixed-gear bike rider and a former backup dancer for Prince.
JOYCE: We joked a lot about how this shoot was “cursed” - as there were an unusual number of fires that needed to be put out. One great story - our production designer went to the hospital the weekend before the shoot because of a reaction on his mouth after eating a bag of pistachios. He thought he had developed an allergy but after some failed antihistamine trials the doctors diagnosed him with a black widow spider bite -- on his lip. We had a new art department by Monday.
What other work in your portfolio are you proudest of?
PIPER: I’m usually proudest of what I’ve most recently done. The Cozy work isn’t the only thing Kevin, Joyce and I did for Gap—we actually made seven projects for them over the last few months. It’s been fast and furious and fun.
KEVIN: I would say the Uniqlo Recipe App I made with Projector Japan. I mean, it’s not every day you get to make something in advertising that’s functional and beyond a typical ad. It’s also tied to food and cooking which is a huge hobby of mine.
JOYCE: I agree with Piper, I usually am proudest of the work I most recently accomplished as it’s fresh in my memory how much we put into it. Other than the Cozy work we made some for-Snapchat high-fashion animated GIFs for Gap which were fun and a totally new experience for me.
What do you do when Not Working?
KEVIN: I like spending time with my wife and traveling upstate. I love the outdoors and I love cooking. I secretly want to have my own amateur cooking show.
PIPER: I have a dude, a dog, and a daughter, so when I’m not working it’s all about them. The kiddo is a really fun age now, she’s almost 4, so as parents we’re busy discovering the city all over again from her POV. She made us go to Coney Island three times in October! And the rare times that I’m not working during the week, I try to go to museums or movies or some part of the city I haven’t been to in awhile to keep the creative juices flowing. Recently I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Who Shot Sports exhibit and it was really inspiring.
JOYCE: Ummm when am I NOT working, is the question. I kid. Sleeping. Eating. Traveling. In that order. I watch a ton of TV & Film but I like to think that is for work.
Who are some WNW Members whose work you admire and why?
PIPER: Aside from Kevin and Joyce...
Donnell Johnson: He and I went to Miami Ad School together and moved to NYC at the same time. He’s such a funny, great and confident writer.
Enrique Mosqueda: Another AD with insane design skills. Amazing eye on that guy. And his knowledge of music/fashion/culture spans all genres and decades. He’s great to work with.
KEVIN: Piper Hickman and Joyce Lee!
Chris Baker - funny guy, smart and has a great sense of humor. One of the best at working in the digital space.
Marques Gartrell - Great personality and super talented in traditional advertising. Also on of the best dressed in the industry.
Anything else you’d like to add?
PIPER: Kevin usually brings in his own lunches and they are amazing. One time he pulled out homemade chicken liver foie gras—that was pretty impressive. And then there was the day he brought in a ‘dessert’ hot dog...skills.
KEVIN: Piper speaks the truth.
JOYCE: Thank you! I feel famous.